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It is tough and tiring – but dance is passion driven so enthusiasm is always there to help with the creative process after a long day at work.

Interview with Kalaivani Kumareswaran of Temple of Fine Arts’ (Singapore) ‘Dharma Ashoka – A Transformative Journey’

The Singapore branch of Temple of Fine Arts (TFA) is presenting dance-drama Dharma Ashoka – A Transformative Journey at Republic Polytechnic’s TRCC Theatre from 27th to 29th August 2015. Admission is by invitation only, which is available at Temple of Fine Arts (TFA), telephone number: 6535 0509, email: [email protected].

A tale about Emperor Ashoka learning Buddhist values, Dharma Ashoka was first staged 21 years ago in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and then travelled to Penang, Perth, Chennai, Mumbai, and Hyderabad between 1998 and 2004. This year’s re-staging is timed to celebrate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee in August 2015.



We spoke to Kalaivani Kumareswaran who performed as a 14 year old in the original staging in 1994, and has returned as the Director of this year’s Dharma Ashoka.


Could you please tell us what Dharma Ashoka is about?

It’s a story of how Emperor Ashoka, who was blinded by greed and the desire to conquer, evolves with the help of Buddha’s teachings, after witnessing the suffering and damage he has caused.


As Director of this production, what are your challenges so far?

As this was a production that was staged at 21 years ago, we had to see how we can improve on the dances, drama, and costumes without losing the essence of how it was conceptualised by our pioneer teachers (and Swamiji of course).

Due to a lack of male dancers/actors I had to seek the help of non-performers. This seemed like a challenge at first but the boys are amazingly enthusiastic and are willing to put in time and effort to learn.

And as we do not have any full time performers – they are either working or studying – it was a challenge to schedule rehearsals to accommodate everyone. A lot of sacrifice was needed on their part and I had to carefully plan rehearsals so that their precious time is well utilised.

Above all, there has been tremendous support from the artistes and crew – and that has proven that we here in TFA have a common goal and we work towards it relentlessly despite our many constraints.


You are also a dancer yourself – are you performing in this production as well? 

Yes. I will be in the 3 main Odissi dance pieces in the production. Another challenge is to be part of the production and direct it as well – I had to make sure I spend time practising my part as well as overseeing all the other scenes. Dance teachers of TFA have come in to support by studying the dances, teaching and setting the scenes.


You’re a mother, wife, and full time teacher – how do you balance your work and personal life, with your performing life?

It is tough and tiring – but dance is passion driven so enthusiasm is always there to help with the creative process after a long day at work. Of course, time with my family is reduced tremendously – but they understand that dance is my passion and they allow me to spend time away from them as they know that makes me happy – and when I am happy, my time at home is also happy – I make sure I spend the little time I have with my son in a qualitative way.


How long have you been dancing? 

More than 25 yrs.


What is ‘dance’ to you?

It’s as important as air, water, and food.


Why should audiences watch Dharma Ashoka

We are all ‘Ashokas’ in one way or another where we get too absorbed with pleasures and desires and look for happiness externally. We get blind and unless something really drastic happens to wake us up from our ignorance, we may eventually die of ignorance! Awareness and seeking the inner peace and happiness should be the goal of our lives I feel. And if we realise that just like Emperor Ashoka we must never keep it to ourselves, we should then aim to spread and share our love and joy to others – like how he spreads peace in the end, instead of merely renouncing violence and keeping his enlightenment to himself.


What are you looking forward to after this production?

More exciting work! Mainly more than just the production, if artistes can find the inner joy performing brings, and continue to give time for their Art, just for the love of it, I would say Dharma Ashoka would indeed have been a success!


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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.

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